Hiring a Contractor? You’re Going to Want to Read This…

Kitchens. Bathrooms. Floors. Walls. Ceilings. Your to-do list goes on and on.

Whether you’re a new or existing homeowner, chances are that sometime in your life you’ll encounter “how” you want to upgrade your home and what your budget is. It’s not uncommon to spend $20,000 – $30,000 on just one project or a few smaller jobs combined — and sometimes up to $40,000 or $50,000.

Use the following tips so you don’t stumble during the process:


  • Compare more than one remodeling contractor — up to five if possible. Comparison is a shopper’s best friend in this instance. We’re talking about your home, the place you live, breath and rest every day. Oftentimes, homeowners who are unhappy with their remodel job only looked at one or two different companies and quotes. You should invest time in reviewing several. It will pay off.


  • Realize that (sometimes) size and flavor matter when picking a contractor/company. Sometimes there’s a sweet spot to be found. Smaller contractor businesses can have the look-and-feel of “personal attention” and a lower price tag, but they may not have the capacity, resources or scale to finish according to your timeline or specifications. On the flipside, larger contractors might be juggling so many projects that yours gets unwieldy, complicated and prone to mistakes — maybe even rushed. Sometimes it’s best to find a small business with a delicate, concerted approach to keep your job a balanced priority in coordination with others.


  • Take note of who the contractor uses to complete jobs, as well as the contractor’s own background. To an extent, a contractor is only as good as his labor force. Do his workers only work for him? Or are they “subs” who rotate through different employers every week depending on the tasks at hand and their tight schedules? What is the contractor’s main background (oftentimes his greatest strength)? Is it framing, electrical, plumbing, or something else? Have he and his laborers worked extensively with each other? The answers to these questions will make you more aware of how he completes jobs compared to others.


  • Ask if the contractor will be onsite during the project — and if so, how often? Having the boss onsite for at least an hour every other day (if not every day) will ensure corners aren’t cut and mistakes are straightened out sooner rather than later. It’s best if he/she is working most of the job themselves, but sometimes this isn’t the case. So make sure he stops by to inspect the project routinely.


  • Ask when the busy season is for the contractor. If possible, fitting your home’s remodel into a slower season on his calendar is optimal. It means his attention won’t be pulled in a dozen different directions as he’s working through your job.


  • Don’t be shy about explaining your expectations more than once. It’s best if both sides have a clear understanding of exactly what tasks should be completed, and how. Remember: the contractor is working for you. And if he doesn’t want the job (or doesn’t want to make you happy), he won’t take it. While you obviously shouldn’t be over-demanding and impatient, don’t short-change yourself on having high expectations.


  • Have a timeline for completion written into the contract. Many kitchen remodels, bathroom upgrades and room expansions have gone astray because a contractor doesn’t stick to the original timeline verbalized before initiation. You should not only write how many days or weeks into the contract (perhaps a time range) but also make sure he or his workers show up “to do something” four to five days a week and ensure they can work 6 – 10 hours per day if possible.


  • Be direct and precise about what is paid for every step of the way. Contractors live in a strange cash-flow world. Sometimes they can’t start a new job because they’re waiting to be paid from a prior project. Make sure you pay them in steps — perhaps five or six portions over time. You want to make sure, as much as possible, that your dollars are going toward the materials and labor on your project, no more and no less.


  • Don’t be afraid of alerting the contractor immediately of workers who aren’t following your house rules. Sometimes laborers spill things, step where they shouldn’t, break items, don’t cover up for construction dust and more. Perhaps that’s OK as long as they change their ways during the project. It’s your home, not theirs.


  • Be prepared for surprises. Whether it’s mold behind walls, outdated electrical wiring, plumbing that’s not to code or something else, there’s a good chance something won’t be up to snuff. You will likely stumble across surprises that aren’t under your control if your home is 30 years old or older. Also, make sure and have a “flex budget” availble for extra, unanticipated costs.


  • Recap, recap, and… recap. At the end of every large section of your project, recap with the contractor what was accomplished and whether or not you’re happy to date. Make sure he sticks to his promise in looking over everything. Your timeline could be impacted if one big step took all day and wasn’t done correctly. Don’t let a day float by without reassessing what’s been done and what’s left to finish — and if it’s all coming together as expected from a 10,000-foot level. As you make your last payment when the job is finished, make sure you’re satisfied. Don’t be shy about giving him and his workers an objective assessment. End on a good note if possible — and if needed, negotiate any line-item in the contract if something isn’t up to par.


This list should keep you covered. However, it’s also important to have a Plan B and Plan C in case the project goes awry. As always, be prepared!


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